For three Providence College Friars, playing the University of Maine in a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series has special meaning.
Sophomore goalie Jon Gillies is from South Portland, senior defenseman Kevin Hart grew up in Cumberland and senior right wing Derek Army spent several years in Scarborough.
Hart said there is extra incentive for him in the series in Providence this weekend because he wasn’t recruited by the Black Bears.
“It is my home state school. But, at the same time, I’m really happy at Providence,” said Hart.
Gillies said he was recruited by Maine but chose Northeastern initially before changing his mind and attending Providence. Army went to Providence to play for his father, former PC coach Tim Army.
“Even though they’re my home state team, I don’t have any ties to Maine. It’s just another opponent to me,” said Gillies.
They played at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena during their youth hockey careers, and Hart and Army played their last college regular season games at Alfond Arena two weekends ago when the Friars swept Maine 4-2 and 3-2.
Hart missed the second game due to injury.
“The atmosphere up there has to be the best in college hockey. It’s unbelievable,” Army said.
“It was a great place to play. I knew a lot of people up there from my town and my high school,” said Hart. “It was always fun.”
Army said it was special visiting Alfond Arena when he was playing in the Casco Bay program because “everybody knew about the history of the hockey program up there.”
“We played Bangor and PVHC [Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference] and I think I went to hockey camp there one summer,” said Hart. “And we would come up to a Maine game about once a year.”
All three players expect a hard-fought series.
“It’ll be a hardworking series,” said Army, who has played 144 games for the Friars and has 36 goals and 38 assists, including 6 & 10 this season. “You have two teams that play physical hockey and like to get after it. And we’re both fighting for our lives.”
“It’ll be a battle for sure,” said Hart, who has racked up 8 goals and 25 assists in 138 games with 3 and 5 this season. “It’s a new season. We know they’re a good team. It’ll be a tight series probably with each game probably decided by one goal.”
Gillies has a career record of 33-19-11 with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. He is 16-7-5, 2.22 and .927 this season.
The Providence trio enjoys playing for former Old Town High School and Maine assistant coach Nate Leaman.
“It is an honor to play for him. He never lets us take a day off or a practice off. He wants us to get better every day. He gets the most out of us,” said Gillies.
“He expects a lot out of us and that’s what drives us. His work ethic is just like ours. I love playing for him and all the other guys do, too,” said Army.
The series also had special meaning for Maine senior defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor. His older brother Ian played for the Friars and was a captain.
“It’s definitely a bit personal for me,” said O’Connor. “My brother went to school there and I almost went there. So there’s definitely a little extra in it for me this weekend.”
His brother was a center-left wing and played from 2007 to 2011.